-Gyan Chandra Acharya
Introduction: As we move forward in a post transition situation in Nepal, it is important that we pursue a right strategy and resolute pathways for our national policies as well as for the conduct of foreign policy to steer our collective efforts towards achieving the I objectives of inclusive progress, stability and prosperity in the country.
It is clear that a well thought-out and prudent conduct of the foreign policy of Nepal with a forward looking outlook will have a pivotal role in effectively pursuing our broader national interests.
The low level of economic development, limited resources, structural constraints and our common aspirations to speed up rapid, sustainable and inclusive economic progress demand more robust and comprehensive cooperation from the international community.
But it takes a strong, development oriented national leadership and partnership of all stakeholders to ensure such progress. An enlightened and committed national ownership should go hand in hand with enhanced international support and cooperation to bring effective results on the ground.
This is more so for a country, which is strategically located and which has maintained its independence throughout its history, despite so many trials and tribulations.
Now that the strategic competition in the neighborhood and at the global level is sharpening, we must be prescient to steer our policies with prudent approach and consistency to ensure that our longer term interests are kept uppermost in our mind.
We have to engage with all, while also ensuring that we do not get caught in entanglement.
This requires clarity, consistency, wider vision, deeper analysis, clear articulation, profound and continuous communications and the capacity to look beyond the present.
With an in-depth and comprehensive analysis, consistency and cohesion, and due regard to all facets of our foreign relations and their interrelationships, we can strengthen and effectively enhance our broader national interests on a sustainable basis.
Furthermore, as we have adopted a federal structure, the central government should have a strong coordination mechanism so that all federal units would also follow them.
The sensitivity and the profound impact of foreign relations should not be taken lightly.
As our political transition was rather long and arduous, we hardly spent time reflecting on and promoting our larger national interests in a more holistic and effective manner.
Ad hoc approach and short term considerations were dominant. It is time that we started a proactive and result-oriented diplomacy, while articulating better how our journey towards a post-conflict inclusive and prosperous society could be transformative.
Neither impromptu response nor a low level equilibrium is in the long- term interest of the country.
While we appreciate some active engagements with all the major powers of late, we have yet to see how far we have been able to make the best use of engagements with them and to what extent it has enhanced mutual understanding, mutual appreciation of each other’s aspirations and support and cooperation.
We should continue to analyze their impacts going forward and adjust our responses in timely manner.
We are all very good at articulating a vision and setting some objectives.
However, we are less proficient in devising right strategy because we lack in-depth research and multidimensional analysis. We have yet to improve coordination skills, rigor and discipline.
Even in the best of times, it is a difficult task to ensure effective coordination among all the players. This is not only specific to foreign affairs; it has been a common feature in many other areas as well. We need to change it, given that the stakes are now much higher than before.
In a highly competitive and globalized world, we must strengthen our internal cohesion and capacity and reap due benefits from an interconnected world.
There are many countries around the world with similar features like ours, which have been able to minimize constraints and maximize opportunities.
The conduct of foreign policy is a serious business in all countries, but it holds a greater premium in countries where there is a disproportionate dependence on external interactions.
There are two approaches to look at the foreign policy related issues: sector specific approach and country/region specific approach.
They are closely interlinked yet they can be analyzed separately for the purpose of ease and clarity.
Under sector specific approach, peace, security and stability-related issues are fundamental to any country.
As we are situated in a strategic region, with ascendant global and regional powers and competitive policies amongst them, we must look at the security and stability related issues with our own long term interests in a holistic manner.
We must consistently analyze how the neighboring countries and the global powers are looking at the security related issues and how they intersect with ours.
Correct evaluation and appropriate response is key to success.
We do not want to be part of any security alliance, but that does not mean that we are oblivious to carving of spheres of influence by others.
Similarly, development and prosperity-related issues and structural transformation of economy are not only economic issues, they are intricately linked with our long-term stability and prosperity.
Given the geographic specificity of Nepal, energy security, food security, water security, human security and stronger national economic structure and diversified and unfettered access to the sea and the global markets are critical.
Likewise, democracy, human rights and social transformation enhance our inner strength and contribute to promoting stability within and outside.
They need to be consolidated based on global norms and best practices.
It is important to underscore that for Nepal, all the three sectors are mutually reinforcing and they need to be coherently promoted.
Main Pillars of Nepal’s Foreign Policy:
Under the country or region-specific approach, we can envisage five key pillars of our foreign policy.
The first pillar is our relationship with India, which has long historical roots and cuts across all sectors from political, economic, commercial, people-to- people relations and culture to religion.
Now with the second innings of the Modi Government, we should be able to capitalize on the strong national leadership of India to promote our larger interests with acumen, constant communications and clarity. Economic relationship needs to be transformed to enhance our productive capacity and better trade, transit and investment deals.
Connectivity and especially the energy trade would be critical in the days ahead.
The unfinished business of the border demarcation, project completion and EPG report should get due priority.
We have not been able to make the best use of its neighborhood first policy, its rising economic power and upsurge in global footprint.
The second pillar is our relationship with China, which is also historical and has many political, economic, developmental and cultural dimensions.
While political visits, trade and investment relationship are growing, we have yet to make full use of the ascendant Chinese economic clout for changing the structure of the economy for the long term benefit of the country. BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) should be utilized in a way that it would consolidate our independence, enhance our opportunities and help fulfill our aspirations.
The third pillar is our long standing and diverse relationships with the developed (OECD) countries.
They are important partners in progress as well.
It was because of their contributions over the decades that we were able to make progress in human development.
Furthermore, our diversification of relations with these countries help consolidate our independent foreign policy and enhance opportunities beyond the region.
Therefore, there should be a conscious policy of enhancing their engagement, while keeping in view our longer term interests and the need for diversification.
We have to be also cognizant that the external resources, trade and investment capacity of these countries are enormous, so are the political and strategic influence globally.
Therefore, we should examine the Indo-Pacific strategy in a larger context and see to it that we get due benefit from it in the areas of our common interests, consistent with our aspirations and foreign policy objectives.
The fourth pillar is our relationship with countries providing foreign employment for the Nepalese people and all the others having other potentials of bilateral relationship including trade and investment.
This relationship is now critically important as we have become heavily dependent on remittances, with almost 30 per cent of GDP, for our economic activities.
While we should use the remittances to transform our economy, we seem to have fallen in the trap of enjoying it only without substantially changing our economic structure with such important foreign exchange resources.
Consumption-oriented, import-led and remittance-dependent economy is not a very healthy sign for an economy with sizeable population like Nepal. We should promote a circular migration with choice and have strong youth employment policy in the country.
And the final pillar is UN and international development and financial institutions and regional organizations such as SAARC and BIMSTEC.
Their principles, objectives and norms as well as their investment are of critical importance to us.
These institutions embody fundamental principles of interstate relations and global and regional cooperation, reinforce sovereign equality and have collaborated with Nepal in all sectors from conflict resolution to promotion of human development, institution and infrastructure building, connectivity and economic cooperation, for a long time.
They are going through either marginalization or outright hostility.
It is in the fundamental interest of Nepal that we should continue to raise voice together with others to promote rule-based, fair and equitable global order with multilateralism at its core.
These relationships explained as five pillars are all important and they need to be nurtured in a balanced manner.
We need to strengthen our multifaceted relationship with them, with in-depth study on their strengths and constraints, competitive and collaborative nature of their inter-relationships and the dynamic influence they exert on each other, and the way they impact on us and our activities.
Major challenge for us has been lack of consolidation of all these relationships with a long-term view.
They may look at times mutually exclusive, we have to make them mutually supportive, with right policies and regular interactions.
With constant engagements and consistent articulation of our thoughts and policies with all the five key pillars, we should be able to lift our relationships to a new height.
Good relationship with immediate neighborhood is critical, but equally important is the diversification of relations with the wider world for mutual benefit and enlargement of our interests and options.
The best way to do that is by attaching due importance to all these relationships.
In promoting our relationships, we should take cognizance of the fact that what we see depends on where we stand.
Similarly, we should try to understand how others see us and we need to have both a bird’s eye view and a worm’s eye view for better understanding of our relationships.
In the similar vein, short-term actions and long term interests need to be analyzed, whether they are converging or diverging.
A dynamic, holistic and integrated analysis is necessary, keeping longer-term and comprehensive national interests uppermost in our mind.
The Way Forward:
We all know that foreign policy is an extension of the national policy abroad. More than that, today the traditional dividing lines are fast disappearing.
It is hard to find out internal issues that are not affected by external actors or actions.
This is true not only for Nepal, but for every country, including the major powers.
But there is a difference.
The major powers have instruments and components of power to blunt the impacts, if they are adverse in nature, or possess means to have a kind of trade off.
We have limited means to do so. Therefore, we need to be more articulate and understand better which way the world is going and how we can better protect and promote our interests.
There is more to be gained, depending on how and whether we are able to use new levers of power such as technology, given the sweeping nature of impacts of globalization and technological revolutions.
We have to figure out what instruments need to be taken into account and strengthened to ensure that we have a relative freedom to decide on choices in regard to our policies and amplify benefits to our people.
In an interconnected world with cut-throat competition, we have to be constantly vigilant, but also prescient in making full use of all the opportunities.
There is no alternative to ensuring consistency in our activities, bringing coherence in our policies, ensuring a longer term outlook in our approach and building up trust and confidence within and outside.
They are all critical to our stability and long term prosperity.
Business as usual is not an option.
As we take pride in an independent history, as we are in a strategic location with our inherent constraints but also some great potentials, and as the world order is going through a long term transition towards fundamental transformation, it is essential that we look at the issues from a strategic perspective in a holistic manner with a long term vision.
There is an acute need for a forward looking and dynamic analysis of all facets of our foreign relations on a continuous basis.
Equally important issues before us are stronger and coherent institutional arrangements at all levels, formulation of policy options with wider consultations, and their effective and coordinated implementation, cooperative and inclusive multi-stakeholder approach, and continuous monitoring and follow up on the direction and results.
This way we will have a dynamic and effective conduct and implementation of Nepal’s foreign policy.